MARIETTA - North Gwinnett continued its historic season Saturday night as the Bulldogs topped Etowah 31-7 in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs at McEachern High School.
North, which had already set a school record for wins in a season, extended that to 11 (with one loss) while advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time ever. The next target for North will be Tift County on Friday.
"I could not be happier for this group of seniors," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "This group of has endured so much with the transitions and the changes. It is a real tribute to them for the character they've displayed."
Etowah entered Saturday's game with some history of its own as the Eagles were in the second round for the first time in their history. For one half Etowah ran stride for stride with North as the two teams were knotted 7-7 at the half.
The fact the game was tied was a break for North as Etowah (8-4) had two touchdowns called back on penalties. After that tight first half, North took control in the second half with some big plays on special teams and defense.
Tyler Jarry gave North the jump start it needed when he took the second-half kickoff 67 yards to the Etowah 13-yard line. North took advantage of the short field and scored four plays later when Evan Gilles bulled in from one yard out for the 14-7 lead.
Special teams again set North up when Etowah was forced to punt on the ensuing possession. This time it was Ryan McDaniel that provided the lift, returning the kick 52 yards to Etowah's 15.
The Eagles stiffened and held North to a 23-yard field goal by Chad Gross, but those 10 quick points gave North a surge of momentum it would not relinquish.
"It's great making history," Jarry said. "Special teams were huge tonight. The coaches also did a great job of getting us ready and the O-line did a great job."
Gilles, who led North in rushing with 84 yards on 18 carries, added his second TD of the night on North's next possession when he scored from five yards out, capping off a 9-play, 55 yard drive.
After Gilles' TD put North comfortably ahead at 24-7, Cameron Demps put an exclamation mark on the game when he picked off a Trey Wilborn pass and returned it 25 yards, holding the ball in the air as he crossed the goal line.
"Our effort was there, but when mistakes happen and you play a team like North, it's hard to bounce back," Etowah head coach Bill Stewart said. "We made some critical errors and let them get on top of us."
The Eagles grabbed an early 7-0 lead when running back Buster Skrine broke through for a 61-yard TD run.
Etowah would have had more points but a block in the back penalty negated a 42-yard TD interception return by Allen Singleton and an ineligible receiver downfield wiped out a TD by Skrine on a 55-yard screen pass.
North, which also had a field goal blocked in the first quarter, finally got on the board with 4:41 left before half when Tamburo scrambled around the right end for a 19-yard TD run.
Tamburo finished the night with 74 yard rushing on 11 carries with one score while passing for 110 yards on 10 of 13 attempts with one interception.
Etowah's leading rusher with Wilborn, who had a game-best 108 yards on 26 carries.